As community outrage intensified over the imminent demise of the storied Waldorf Hotel as a hub for a myriad of cultural activities, the hotel's new owners moved to assert damage control over the growing uproar.
Solterra Group has an "open mind" about the future of the east side property, insisted the development company's CEO Gerry Nichele in a statement released late Thursday.
At this point, there is no intention to demolish the Waldorf, added Mr. Nichele, responding to a host of social-media critics who accuse Solterra of planning to level the building for a condominium development.
"We want to explore possible ways to retain and improve the hotel. We are studying all the options."
The company's statement, however, is unlikely to stem growing concern that the decision by the hotel's current operators to end their efforts to establish the Waldorf as a cultural hot spot is a significant loss to the city's vibrancy.
Mayor Gregor Robertson was quick to express dismay when surprise news of the Waldorf's difficulties broke on Wednesday, and an online petition urging the mayor to stop any rezoning of the Waldorf property quickly drew more than 4,500 names.
Sources say city staff are already scrambling to figure out possible solutions to the chaotic situation.
It erupted when the hotel operators, Waldorf Productions, announced the hotel had been sold and, unable to secure a long-term lease, they would cease activities there Jan. 20.
The mayor is pursuing "aggressive measures" to ensure the Waldorf is protected, both as a building and as a cultural space, sources said.
One possibility would see the current operators return to the hotel and continue to run its existing operations, which include an art gallery, nightclub, bar and restaurant, along with space for cultural events. That would require some pressure from the city, an informal agreement on the site's future, and an end to the animosity between Waldorf Productions and the property's landlord.
A more likely scenario would preserve the Waldorf as a heritage building and future arts venue under new operators, while allowing development on the property's large parking lots.
The Solterra Group of Companies has only recently expanded its operations into Vancouver. During its 15-year existence, the development firm built a number of smaller condo projects in Squamish, Langley and Surrey. It is currently selling units in two towers at Symphony Place in downtown Vancouver, as well as planning developments on Keefer Street in Chinatown and on South Granville.
Meanwhile, verbal clashes continued between the Waldorf operators, who poured big money into renovating the 65-year-old hotel, aimed at creating "a cultural hub in the heart of East Vancouver," and landlord Marko Puharich, who spoke through his lawyer, Gavin Crickmore.
The operators maintained they were profitable after a tough financial start in 2010, and were meeting their rent payments. Partner Ernesto Gomez said they had even managed to pay down their debt by $115,000 between September and the end of the year.
Mr. Crickmore disagreed about the viability of the Waldorf's operation.
"They had a very complex and difficult business plan for the property, which simply was not something that worked for the purpose of the landlord," he said in an interview.
Mr. Gomez said the operators decided to walk away when the landlord would grant them no more than a week-to-week lease. "That's ridiculous. It's just not possible to operate that way."
But Mr. Crickmore contended the group's 2010 business model was not one that would prompt any landlord to provide a long-term lease.
Each also accused the other of sandbagging them. The operators said they were stunned to hear the hotel had been sold. Mr. Crickmore said the landlord, Mr. Puharich, was equally taken aback when the operators decided to call it quits. "We actually learned they were leaving the premises when I was contacted a newspaper."
In the meantime, Mr. Puharich plans to keep the Waldorf's liquor operations going, said Mr. Crickmore.
Mr. Gomez said he understands Solterra assumes ownership of the Waldorf property next September.
"When we tried to talk to Solterra, they shut the door in our face. … This is all very disappointing. I'm absolutely confident we were on our way up. We were paying everything," Mr. Gomez said. declared.
Those mourning what could be the end of the Waldorf included many who remembered its earlier days as a popular east side watering hole, with its distinctive, Polynesian Tiki Lounge.
"The Wally was the first place I ever got served beer," recalled David Counsell of Port Moody, in a posting to The Globe and Mail website. "We used to go there after softball games, with the General Paint team. I was the youngest on the team, and the Wally was a coming-of-age place for me, back in 1977.
"The staff would give you a wink, and fill up the terry-cloth covered tables with as many glasses as they would hold," Mr. Counsell remembered.